Parental Alienation Syndrome In Minnesota Divorce And Custody Disputes

The Ohio Divorce Attorneys with Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues author the popular Ohio Divorce & Family Law Blog. They recently posted a useful article entitled “What is Parental Alienation and Parental Alienation Syndrome?”

Attorney Robert Mues notes that there are a number of different factors and circumstances that have an effect on the determination of custody. As in Ohio, Minnesota judges must consider a number of relevant factors when determining the best interest of a child. One of those factors includes whether either parent has continuously and willfully denied the other parent’s right to parenting time or visitation as ordered by a court.

While visitation denials may be relatively easy to prove in court, that alone doesn’t amount to parental alienation. It is not uncommon for some amount of alienation to occur when parents first separate. Usually, the alienation subsides after the parents’ transition through the separation and move on with their lives. In some cases it doesn’t, and instead it continues and escalates to what has become referred to as “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”

This disorder was first identified by Richard A. Gardner, a forensic psychiatrist in the mid-1980s, who defines it as:

A disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming or brainwashing of a child by one parent to denigrate the other parent and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.

Mues accurately points out that there are three stages of parental alienation syndrome. These stages include mild, moderate and severe. In a mild case there are naive alienators and the perpetrator can be educated and changed. However, in a severe case the perpetrator is often delusional and their entire being is focused on destroying the other parent’s relationship with the child. Experts must be brought in to prove the alienation and, more importantly, to assist the child in gaining an accurate perspective on things.

Having handled many custody disputes involving parental alienation syndrome, I can honestly say that they are, by far, the most difficult and raw of all family cases. At the end of the day, the parent who engages in parental alienation behaviors is committing an act of abuse upon a child. The caselaw in Minnesota on this issue is rather undeveloped. But, like so many psychological theories and concepts, the public, and the courts, are becoming much more familiar with the syndrome and consequence of parental alienation.

There are some experts and jurists who have criticized the concept of parental alienation syndrome, calling it “inadmissible junk science.” This author, however, questions how many times they’ve actually experienced and dealt with the conduct described by Gardner. Parental alienation syndrome is very real (no matter what you call it) and is an example of a parenting at its lowest and most neglectful level.

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